|Zoolander (Special Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Monday, 11 March 2002|
Most movies made from TV comedy sketches turn out to be mildly amusing at best and painful at worst. Somehow, "Zoolander" escapes this curse with surprising zest. Director/co-scripter/star Ben Stiller has a clear handle on the material, an ear for the absurd and an unexpected sweetness that make his film a lot of fun.
Stiller’s Derek Zoolander is a top male model who may not be the hottest commodity in town just now – that would be his competition, Hansel (Owen Wilson) – but he certainly takes the prize as the dumbest bunny in the hutch. Derek’s dimness is precisely why he’s hired by evil designer Mogatu (Will Ferrell). Mogatu and his sweatshop-owner cronies have hatched a nefarious scheme to brainwash Derek into assassinating the children’s rights-promoting Prime Minister of Malaysia at an upcoming fashion show.
"Zoolander" nicely invents its own world, picking up momentum as it goes. Stiller and co-writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg, working from a story by Sather & Stiller, have thought out the details, so that elements fit together with a kind of giddy dream logic. Key to the light tone is the fact that, although Derek is truly IQ-challenged, the movie likes him and his fuzzy-thinking peers. The jokes are frisky and absurd rather than mean-spirited, turning on deadpan incongruity instead of sadism.
The disc includes the two VH-1 shorts that introduced Derek, which enables the viewer to chart the character’s evolution. In the first short, Stiller gives Derek a fairly normal demeanor that belies his off-the-wall dialogue. In the second short, Stiller is starting to refine the performance he gives in "Zoolander," practically channeling Marilyn Monroe, breathy voice, pout and soulfully clueless expression included. As a filmmaker, Stiller is smart enough to share focus with the other stars, especially Wilson as Hansel, whose unflappable Zen good cheer and expert timing raise the film’s comedic pulse each time he appears. Christine Taylor, as a reporter from Time who gets caught up in the action, has great silent reactions that keep her from being merely a foil for the silliness around her. Ferrell looks like he’s having a ball as the tantrum-throwing meanie of the piece and Milla Jovovich revels in her Bondian villainess. There are a host of cameos, including David Duchovny as a woolly-bearded, secret-keeping ex-model and David Bowie as himself, refereeing a modeling battle.
A lot of care and thought has gone into the "Zoolander" DVD. By all means, linger on the menus long enough to hear Stiller as Zoolander explaining all your options – the routines both give you a taste of what the movie is like and are very funny in their own right. Picture and sound are both very clear, with the dialogue reliably distinct in the center channel throughout, and there’s clever use of pop and rock songs on the soundtrack. In Chapter 3, there’s a good, noticeable differentiation between sound that’s "live" in the scene and a broadcast documentary. Chapter 5 makes innovative, apt use of Wham’s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." A fiery explosion is a bit tame, but "Zoolander" is a comedy, not an action film – the intent is to punctuate events, not jolt the audience. Composer David Arnold has come up with some sly faux James Bond music, introduced in Chapter 9, that comes in handy. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s "Relax" is actually used as a plot point, first throbbing to life in Chapter 13. Colors in Chapter 16 are particularly beautiful and vivid, with fairytale hues in the costumes and excellent skin tones – even eye colors are rendered with unusual nuance. Chapter 17 has a good ambient mix as David Bowie’s "Let’s Dance" and Michael Jackson’s "Beat It" surge around crowd applause. Chapter 19 demonstrates the precision of the picture quality, as twinkling city lights in the background remain distinct with no blur or doubling. The chapter also boasts some nicely hefty gunshots, though the bullets’ trajectory is not directional. Chapter 20 has more excellent ambience, right down to the small sounds of fabric scratching fabric and atmospheric breathing. Chapter 26 has the film’s best surround effects, with a crowd swirling through mains and rears. Chapter 29 accomplishes something that a lot of film soundtracks fail to do on home systems – it modulates the human voice. Ferrell’s Mogatu, throwing yet another fit, starts screeching, but his high notes don’t translate into electronic squeal; the audio remains well-modulated.
The deleted and extended scenes all feel of a piece with what’s onscreen; Stiller’s optional comments about why the material was cut are illuminating from an editorial standpoint. The audio commentary by Stiller and his co-writers, Sather and Hamburg, is friendly and funny in the center channel; the soundtrack comes up full strength whenever they fall silent.
"Zoolander" isn’t perfect – some of the routines go on too long, but even when they get old, they don’t get ugly. "Zoolander" is an agreeably goofy movie that at worst is harmless. At best, it is witty and occasionally even inspired.